Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures. They are the gestures which symbolize divine manifestation – as per Buddhist Philosophers. They are used by monks in their spiritual exercises of ritual meditation and concentration and are believed to generate forces that invoke the deity.
In Buddhist philosophy such hand gestures have been assigned a prominent position and are seen in various sculptures and painting of India, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
Five Major Mudras( displayed by Dhyani Budda’s) and their Summary is as follows:
While there are a large number of esoteric mudras, overtime Buddhist art has retained only five of them for the representation of the Buddha. Images of the Buddha which exhibit mudras other than these are extremely rare. The significance of these Mudras can be gauged from the fact that each of the Five transcendental ( Dhyani ) Buddhas is assigned one of these mudras.
These 5 mudras are:
- Dharmachakra Mudra
- Bhumisparsha Mudra
- Varada Mudra
- Dhyana Mudra
- Abhaya Mudra
Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the “ Wheel of Dharma”. This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Budhha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the First Sermon after his enlightenment in the Deer park at Sarnath.
In this Mudra the thumb and the index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. This circle represents the wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and the wisdom.
Significantly, in this mudra, the hands are held in front of the heart, symbolizing that these teachings are straight from the Buddha’s heart.
This mudra is displayed by first Dhyani Budhha – vairochana.
It translates into ‘ Touching the Earth ‘. It is more commonly known as the ‘ Earth Witness’ Mudra.
It symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, when he summoned the earth Goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment.
It is in this posture that Shakyamuni overcame the obstructions of Mara while mediating on truth.
The second Dhyani Buddha, Akshobhya is depicted in this mudra.
This Mudra symbolizes Charity, compassion and boon granting. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation. It is nearly always made with the left hand.
This mudra is rarely used alone, but usually in combination with another made with the right hand, often the Abhaya Mudra ( described above).
Ratnasambhava – the Third Dhyani Buddha displays this mudra.
The Dhyana Mudra may be made with one or both hands. When made with a single hand the left one is placed on the lap.
When made with both hands, the hands are generally held at the level of stomach or on the thighs. The right hand is placed above the left, with the palm facing upwards, and the fingers extended.
In some cases the thumbs of the two hands may touch at the tips – thus forming a mystic triangle. This triangle is also said to represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely, The Buddha himself, The Dharma and the Sangha.
This mudra indicates the perfect balance of thought, senses and the tranquillity.
This mudra is displayed by fourth Dhyani Buddha, Amitabha, also known as Amitayus
Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. Thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace and the dispelling of fear. It is a Gesture of Protection and Fearlessness.
In Thailand – this mudra is associated with the movement of the walking Buddha ( also called “The Budhha placing his footprint” )
Buddhist tradition has an interesting legend behind this Mudra which goes as follows:
Devadatta – a cousin of the Buddha, through jealousy caused a schism to be caused among the disciples of Budhha. As Devadatta’s pride increased, he attempted to murder Buddha. One of his plans involved loosing a rampaging elephant into the Budhha’s path. But as the elephant approached him, Buddha displayed the Abhaya Mudra, which immediately calmed the animal.
The Abhaya Mudra is displayed by the Fifth Dhyani Buddha, Amogha siddhi. He is also the Lord of the Karma in the Buddhist Pantheon.